PHOENIX (AP) — Arizona politicians have invoked the "rule of law" for more than a decade as the guiding principle in pushing for tougher immigration laws, arguing that no one — no matter who you are — is above the law.
The rallying cry has become muted as President Donald Trump considers a pardon for former Sheriff Joe Arpaio after a judge found he broke the law in defying a judge while carrying out traffic patrols that targeted immigrants.
The president told Fox News that he was seriously considering a pardon for Arpaio, an enthusiastic Trump supporter who shared the stage with him at several campaign rallies and became a close ally in pushing for tougher immigration enforcement.
The prospect has fueled speculation that Trump will issue his first pardon when he comes to Phoenix next week for a rally.
The Associated Press asked the offices of Arizona's two senators and nine congressional representatives as well as Republican Gov. Doug Ducey to reveal their views on a possible Arpaio pardon.
Three of the state's four Democratic representatives wrote a letter to Trump urging him not to pardon Arpaio. The fourth, Rep. Kyrsten Sinema, said the former sheriff should be held accountable but did not address the possible pardon or criticize the president over the possibility of granting one.
Republican Reps. Paul Gosar and Trent Franks described the case against Arpaio as a political prosecution and supported a pardon.
The offices of the other Republican members of Arizona's congressional delegation didn't respond to interview requests, including Sens. John McCain and Jeff Flake and Reps. Andy Biggs, David Schweikert and Martha McSally. Ducey didn't talk to reporters before leaving for an event Friday.
"He has no prior convictions, no criminal record, no record of wrongs," Franks said in a statement on the 85-year-old Arpaio. "In his twilight years, he deserves to retire peacefully and enjoy the satisfaction of a hard-earned and honorable retirement."
Gosar issued a statement saying, "Supporting and upholding the federal immigration law should be the gold standard in law enforcement, and that's exactly what Joe did. In the end, Joe's crime was upholding the rule of law. A pardon is just and right in this circumstance."
Arpaio was trounced in November after 24 years in office and found guilty last month of a misdemeanor contempt-of-court charge for defying the courts. The conviction stemmed from Arpaio's decision to prolong immigration patrols after a judge in a racial-profiling lawsuit ordered him to stop them.
He faces up to six months in jail at his Oct. 5 sentencing, though attorneys who have followed the case doubt someone his age would be incarcerated.
Arpaio insisted his disobedience wasn't intentional and blamed one of his former lawyers for not properly explaining the importance of the court order. The former lawman said he was astonished by the verdict and brushed off the conviction as a "petty crime."
Five years ago, then-Gov. Jan Brewer cited the "rule of law" when she expressed her opposition to an Obama administration policy that protected young immigrants from deportation.
And it was invoked by Ducey when he signed a 2016 law that requires immigrants who are convicted of crimes to complete 85 percent of their prison sentences before they are released to immigration authorities.
"If you break the law and commit a crime in Arizona, we expect you to serve your sentence, no exceptions," Ducey wrote last year, adding that "we must stand for the rule of law."
The governor was endorsed by Arpaio during his 2014 run for governor, providing him a big lift in a Republican primary dominated by immigration.
Democratic U.S. Rep. Raul Grijalva said it would be hypocritical for advocates for tougher immigration enforcement to now hold Arpaio to a more lenient standard.
"If the rule of law is unbending and applies to all, then it applies to Arpaio," he said.
Trump and Arpaio became linked during the 2016 campaign for their like-minded views on immigration, but they also have a similar history in sparring with judges.
Arpaio was accused of launching an investigation into the federal judge who ruled against him in the racial-profiling case.
Before that, he questioned the impartiality of a judge initially on the case because her twin sister leads a prominent advocacy group for Latinos. Opposing lawyers said Arpaio forwarded an email to staff members in which he referred to then-U.S. District Judge Mary Murguia as a "token Hispanic female judge."
Trump ignited a firestorm last year when he suggested that an U.S.-born judge's Mexican heritage exposed a bias against him in a dispute over Trump University. And he bashed another jurist who blocked his initial travel ban as a "so-called judge."
The issue came up in federal court in Arizona last week when a judge alluded to Arpaio and Trump in an unrelated case.
"All of this disrespect for the rule of law, something I have never experienced of this kind or seen in nearly 30 years of being a lawyer or 16 years as a judge," U.S. Magistrate Judge David Duncan said. "I worry where this all leads. I worry that it sends a message that we only follow the laws that we think are right, or that we can choose whether we wish to do what is necessary to follow the law."